I like hops. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
When I find a new hop, I love trying it out to find out what it can do. There are a lot of really good ways to try hops out, but my favorite method is brewing the same pale ale recipe and using the hope throughout the entire brew. Not only do I get five gallons of delicious brew out of it, I also get to see what the hop does throughout the brewing process.
For a primer on how hop additions work, let’s talk about timing. There are a lot of times when a brewer can add hops to brew. Typically, bittering hops go in at the beginning of the boil, flavor hop go somewhere in the middle, and aroma hops go in at the very end (or as dry hops in secondary fermentation).
When I get a new hop variety to try out, I brew a very simple pale ale that uses the hop at each of these stages, including dry-hopping. This will let me evaluate the following:
Bittering addition: Is the bitterness of the hop harsh or mellow? Most of the time, there’s not much difference in perception for hops added early, as all of the volatile aroma and flavor substances tend to be vaporized by long boiling, but I always include the hop at this stage so I can get a full picture of what the hop is like.
Flavor addition: Using a flavor addition in the middle of the boil allows you to get a better picture of what the hop tastes like. Keep in mind that you’ll also pick up some aroma and bitterness in this addition, so be sure to include it in your calculations.
Aroma addition (flameout): Just as you’re killing the heat to your kettle, you stir this one in. This is the aroma addition in the boil. It is very similar to making a hop tea, as you’re essentially steeping the hops without boiling off the volatile compounds.
Aroma addition (dry-hopping): This is more like cold-brewing your coffee than making a hop tea. This preserves more of the delicate hop aromas, which provide that “fresh” hop character you can pick up in locally-brewed IPAs (shipping and storage tend to oxidize these compounds somewhat).
Using a hop at each one of these stages in a brew is a very good way to getting a full picture as to how you’d like to use that hop in the future. I recommend finding a pale ale recipe that you really like and can brew consistently. It will allow you to compare the hop varieties against each other without other changes in recipe affecting your perception.
Because this is a written article and no longer on the radio, here is a recipe that I use to brew my Single Hop experiments.
Evaluation Experimentation Ale
8.5 lbs 2-row pale malt
1.5 lbs Crystal 20L
.5 lb CaraPils
7.5 AAU Hop* for 60 minutes
.5 oz Hop for 15 minutes (flavor addition – some people prefer 30 minutes)
.5 oz Hop at flameout
1 oz Hop in secondary (5-7 days)
Irish Moss (1 tsp at 15 minutes until end of boil)
Fermentis Safale US-05, Wyeast 1056, or White Labs WLP001
Mash at 152 degrees until all of the starches are converted, mash out at 170 degrees. Bring it to a boil and add the first addition. After 45 minutes, add the second hop addition and the Irish Moss. As the hour runs out, turn off the heat and add the last hops. Whirlpool, chill, and ferment. Rack to secondary after fermentation stops and add the 1 oz of dry hops. After 5-7 days, bottle or keg and sample. Best served fresh.
Replace the 2-row base malt with 5.1 lbs of Light Dry Malt Extract. Steep the other grains in a cheesecloth sack at 152 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove them, allowing them to drip back into your kettle. Add your malt extract and bring to a boil. Proceed from the first hop addition as above.